Not Just Physical Walls

It’s Not Just Physical Walls the U.S. Must Build in the Coronavirus Era

By Chet Richards

Walls have been the norm for settlements since the earliest Neolithic days.  Farmers have things, such as food and valuable implements.  Other people want those things and are sometimes inclined to take them.  Walls provide security so that people can live with some degree of peace.  Throughout history, everywhere towns and cities, and even nations, have built walls to keep out the riff-raff.  Why?  Well, walls work! 

Walls come in many sizes and materials: stone, steel, bricks and wood.  They come in many sizes, from protecting a small settlement to protecting an entire territory.  Hadrian’s Wall, Offa’s Dyke and the Great Wall of China show us the effectiveness of long walls in the preservation of a nation. Trump’s wall promises similar utility.

Walls are a powerful force multiplier – provided they are adequately garrisoned.  There are a multitude of examples in history where a small defending force has defeated a massive besieging army through the power of walls.  But walls must not have open ends that can be flanked.  The Maginot line is a sad example.

Protective walls don’t have to be material.  They can be cultural, political or economic in nature.  Ancient Sparta had no walls of stone.  The Spartans relied on the reputation of their warriors.  Reputation was their wall.  The very name Sparta was enough to deter invasion.

After the Second World War, the United States built treaty walls – NATO in Europe protecting against the Soviet Union and SEATO in the western Pacific shielding East Asia against communist China.  These treaty organizations not only provided enhanced military protection, they also economically enriched all the participants.

For their time, these abstract walls were a great benefit.  But then the Soviet Union fell apart and communist China seemingly liberalized.  It now seems that the time for these defensive walls has passed – at least in their original form.  Such alliances will likely continue, but not in their old military role. In today’s topsy-turvy world their mission must change.  New abstract walls of protection must, and will, emerge for we have now encountered a true black swan – Donald Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknown,” in the coronavirus crisis.

Our post-Cold War strategy was a natural extension of the great success we had after the Second World War in turning former enemies into prosperous friends and allies, and in demolishing the Soviet empire.  The Cold War success bred a baked-in optimism into our foreign policy.  An optimism that remained until very recently even though it has been severely tested in Vietnam and the Middle East.

Because of this strategic optimism we, quite mistakenly, thought that this same policy could “civilize” China.  This has proved to be a major mistake.  Despite its having grafted-on the European Marxist pathology, China remains China.  This ancient empire has an inherent sense of superiority that derives from four thousand years of uniquely continuous Chinese culture.

China also has highly intelligent leadership that intensely studies the United States to discover, and manipulate, our weaknesses.  It has been remarkably successful in that manipulation.  Chinese strategy has been to swallow vital portions of our industrial economy through a policy of massive domestic industrial subsidies, dumping products below cost with the government making up the loss, punitive tariffs, bribery, spying and theft of our proprietary technology – in essence, by cheating.

China now has a stranglehold on many of those elements that are vital to America’s survival.  Our vulnerability to China was made possible by China’s bamboozling and bribing America’s obtuse globalist corporate and government leaders.

But all is not lost.  The COVID-19 China virus pandemic changes everything.  Through its behavior during this crisis China has revealed itself to be not a friend but a hostile adversary.  In so doing, it has made visible the serious flaws in our post-Cold War national strategy.

The COVID virus pandemic, painful though it now is, has had the beneficial effect of jolting us awake to the real danger that China poses to our long-term survival.  We are now alert to the fact that China has flanked our economic protective barriers and captured vital portions of our industry.

The wakeup call in our relations came in the form of China’s threat to cut off pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.  If they were to carry out this threat it would be an act of war.  The future would become very problematic at that point.

But such an event is unlikely.  China’s threat to embargo pharmaceuticals was probably just a probe to see what our reaction would be.  Fortunately, President Trump publicly ignored the threat and thereby neutralized it.  Nevertheless, the threat exposed the truth of our more general vulnerability – not just to China.  The truth of our vulnerability can no longer remain hidden.  We must build strong new walls.

In 1800, the new United States was an agricultural backwater.  By mid-century we were already substantially industrialized – and we were the world’s leader in invention.  Despite the terrible destruction of the Civil War, and the Long Depression of the 1870s, by 1890, we led the world in energy consumption and therefore in heavy industry and agriculture.  How did we do this?  We did it mainly through protective tariffs.  And, there were no business or investment income taxes.  The government also fostered the building of railroads, canals and shipping.  And, it encouraged the importation of superior technology.  In effect, we built economic walls to protect and encourage the rapid growth of our economy.  These walls had the interesting additional property that they attracted massive amounts of foreign investment in our industry and agriculture.

Sounds a bit like China, doesn’t it?  Actually not.  One difference is the United States believes in the rule of law and the rule of respect.  Another difference is that in China, the communist government effectively owns all domestic businesses, while political party leaders control investment and reap the rewards.  Moreover, the Chinese government is willing to do anything in its power to win – no rules.  In the long run, the Chinese model is a loser because free enterprise is a far more effective engine of creation.

By today’s globalist standards, our nineteenth century protectionist policy was pure heresy.  It violated the ideas of Adam Smith and David Ricardo that maximum wealth results from pure free trade and local competitive advantage.

Well, theories are nice, but they often don’t work out in practice.  Nations can, and do, engage in cutthroat competition rather than friendly cooperation.  Practical men see these disconnects between theory and practice and jury-rig solutions that do work.  America’s old high tariff walls, combined with no investment tax, was just such a solution – and it worked an economic miracle!  It is time to revive, and appropriately adapt, those old practical walls and incentives.

Our new economic strategy must bring our critical industries back to the territorial United States.  Fortunately, the United States is a continental nation.  We have within our borders almost all the natural resources necessary for a modern economy.  Those very few items which can only be found abroad we can stockpile against contingency.

We know we can do this because we have done it before – both in the nineteenth century and much more recently.  A decade ago we were entirely dependent on Middle Eastern oil.  The consequences of war and lost treasure we all know.  Today, through the free enterprise invention of fracking, we are energy independent and can be free of the Middle East if we so desire.  Good lesson.

History is switching the world into a new mode.  The COVID virus marks the end of the post-Cold War era and the beginning of a new age.  Build the walls, America, and you will be free and ascendant for a very long time to come.


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